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How I saved over 70% on my grocery bill

One of my simple pleasures in life is grocery shopping. I enjoy the smell of the bakery, the freshness of the seafood, the meat department, and the florist department.

Although I enjoy spending time at the grocery store, the more time you spend in the grocery store, the more money you spend. The average spent is about $2.17 per minute, according to the Food Marketing Institute (http://www.fmi.org).

I have developed a great grocery shopping system that requires good planning, math skills, and discipline that saves me time and money.

To demonstrate my system just look at a recent receipt from a local grocery store. The receipt below shows that I saved over 70% off the original price of all these goods and paid less than 9 dollars (from the original price of $32.24).

Planning is important to the system to maximize savings

If you run out of milk or bread and have to purchase from the corner store that may not have great low prices you will often spending more than you should. My wife and I purchase items ahead of time so we are prepared and don’t need to spend more than we need to. We didn’t need laundry detergent (we already had two containers in our pantry) but it was on sale so we stockpiled some more detergent. One of our tricks is that when you are in a hurry you are more likely to rush making a poor decision.

Another benefit to our system, is far less trips to the convenience store to pick something up. You waste less time on unnecessary trips and spend more quality time together.

Find out the loss leaders and specials for the week

My wife and I use our website (http://www.groceryalerts.ca) or flyers to monitor the weekly flyer deals to save time and money.

We saw that the organic yogurt that we enjoy but rarely purchase because it is usually $5.99 was on sale at $4.49. I also saw that the green laundry detergent was on sale for under $10.

We love to find the loss leaders for each store and stock up on those. A loss leader is an item for sale that the grocery store takes a loss on each time they sell it. The store hopes that people will purchase more than they intended to.

One funny story is that when we found a 10KG bag of flour for under $4 we bought two of them and stored one of them under our bed! It beats paying closer to $9 each when it is regular price.

Use math skills to maximize your coupons

This receipt is an example of how we maximize coupons.

  • Combining the organic yogurt’s sale price with a printable coupon for $1 off we paid $3.50.
  • I had a $5 off coupon off any size of Nature’s Path cereal. The smaller boxes are usually 400g and using the coupon would have wasted some of the savings. We used the coupon on a bulk size 1kg box that was on sale for $6.99. Using our coupon we maximized the savings by spending only $1.99 for 600g of additional cereal.
  • Using a $10 off coupon for laundry detergent and a coupon that was attached to the laundry detergent we paid 19 cents for the laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaner. The laundry detergent was on sale so it allowed us to use the coupon without paying anything and the coupon attached to the detergent allowed us to take $3 off when you purchased the laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaner (on sale for $3.19).

Conclusion:

This system is not just about saving money but saving time as well. I enjoy to spend time with my family rather than be in a hurry to purchase some last-minute items. You can save money when combining coupons and using sales to maximize your savings. Planning is a key to avoid being in a position to hastily make a decision (for example, buying a 1kg jar of peanut butter at the regular price).

Do you have any tips on grocery shopping or experiences on major savings on receipts?

The author of this article is Steven Zussino, Founder of Grocery Alerts Canada , home of grocery deals and money saving coupons. He enjoys personal finance and saving money in beautiful Victoria, BC.

If you would like to read more articles like this, you can sign up for my free newsletter service below (we will not spam you).

About the author: This is a guest post. You can read more about the author in the biography above.

{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Bruce February 3, 2010, 9:34 am

    Who lose money for the shopper to save 70%?

  • Observer February 3, 2010, 10:15 am

    Delighted this system works for you. My mother does similar (has done for years) and my wife and I have tried but largely given up.

    My sense is this works well for families who have fairly regular consumption, some flexibility to arbitrage opportunities (type A vs type B), and tend to prefer branded goods. Works less well if you prefer store or economy brands (e.g. Astro yogurt instead of Stonyfield Organic – significantly lower price point but rarely on sale, and if so for less money), or have less predictable usage patterns and thus stockpiling can generate waste.

  • Lori February 3, 2010, 10:32 am

    Where do you get the $5 and $10 off coupons? I live in Manitoba and never see coupons worth that much. Thanks

  • No Debt Guy February 3, 2010, 10:55 am

    No I just feel like we are being lazy and spending more than we have too. Our big thing is to stock up on 15% off Tuesdays.

  • Mike February 3, 2010, 11:11 am

    Nice article Steve.

    A money saving tip I’ve noticed in the last little while is the coupons on the inside of cereal boxes. They are usually for another product by the same brand but still worth a look before tossing that empty box in the recycling bin.

    I cut out a $2.50 coupon for a large pack of frozen berries (Europa) last week. Giddy Up!

  • used tires February 3, 2010, 11:42 am

    Like you, I also enjoy spending time at the grocery store. Nothing like fresh produce all around you. :D And I too end up spending more than I should. So your tips should held me out quite a bit I hope.

    Till then,

    Jean

  • finance February 3, 2010, 11:48 am

    Good tip you have there. Planning is very essentials to most of the thing we do. plus adding coupons to get some discount really helps.

  • Scott February 3, 2010, 12:43 pm

    I’m a sucker for sale items.
    My two biggies: coffee and toilet paper.

    The brand of coffee I use is regular priced at $15-16/lb (yikes!) but there are several different stores which almost always have it on sale for $9.99 — why would I buy at the “regular” price?!?

    And always at least once per quarter my local grocery store puts my brand of TP on sale for 33% off. I stockpile until they think I’m crazy. Again, why would I pay “regular”!

    Another good one is to look for meats with a “20% Off @ Till” or “$2 Off” sticker. Make sure you cook and eat it that night(!) (or freeze it) or it is a waste.

  • Four Pillars February 3, 2010, 12:49 pm

    I’d be a lot more interested in knowing how much you can save on a normal weekly or monthly grocery shopping list with 30+ typical items. Your example is not at all representative since it only has a few select items on it which you had big coupons for, plus a few monster coupons ($5,$10) taken off the total which I’ve never heard of.

    Can you get those kinds of individual discounts all types of foods on a regular basis? Can you get those huge vendor coupons on a weekly basis or are they just a once in a blue moon kind of thing?

  • James February 3, 2010, 1:07 pm

    I agree with four pillars, I have seen a few five dollar coupons in my life(maybe 3) so that is hardly something you can count on from week to week and I’ve never seen a 10 coupon. I have no doubt it is possible to save reasonable amounts of money using coupons but 70% off on a regular basis I find very unlikely. Those big 5 and 10 dollar coupons are more likely than not for expensive brand name items I wouldn’t usually purchase. Saving money on something I wouldn’t usually buy is not saving at all.

  • cat9987 February 3, 2010, 1:21 pm

    Four pillars got a point here, you should have make a comparison with a standard weekly grocery shopping. In addition, you say your wife and you found your coupons on http://www.groceryalerts.ca, and you claim being the founder at the end of the article. So I’m guessing this article’s pretty much an ad for your website, which after visiting it doesn’t propose the big coupons you used ($5 & $10). Moreover, the coupons’ listing isn’t really interesting for people that try to cut on spending money on goods that are not necessary.

  • little Ms. Scrooge February 3, 2010, 1:35 pm

    All provinces are not there on the web-site. I find this site
    http://save.ca/english/index.php more useful.

  • L'il Jimmy February 3, 2010, 2:07 pm

    Agree with other posters – article is a bit disingenuous.

    Maybe a better title would have been “How I saved over 70% on one grocery bill one time using a cherry-picked sample of items in order to exaggerate the benefits of using my website”

  • Sarlock February 3, 2010, 2:51 pm

    Also try comparison shopping between the different grocery stores: You will be amazed at how much more expensive some stores are compared to others, even when you include the “sales”. In my experience, Save on Foods is one of the most expensive. I buy our fresh produce from a local farmer’s market for less than half the price that Save On charges.

  • Trevor February 3, 2010, 3:14 pm

    I guess there are two questions I have. Like Four Pillars, a more representative selection would have been better. And let’s say you save an average of $10 per week going to 8 different grocery stores. How much are you paying in gas? And more importantly, how much are you spending in time? I would rather pay $10 per week and go grocery shopping once and not spend hours looking at websights and scanning flyers.

    But that’s me…

  • Steve Zussino February 3, 2010, 3:27 pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    To answer some questions:

    I received the comment from Nature’s Path by complaining in an email that a local merchant did not let me use a printable coupon.

    Four Pillars,

    I am currently in the process of trying to write a book. I want to discuss tips on buying for a large family, seniors, coupon tips, places to use double-coupons, keeping it simple (instead of having 5 types of BBQ sauce purchasing 1).

    I love to help people save money. I give coupons to friends with babies and I hate seeing people spend too much on things.

    There are lots of other websites out there that have downloadable coupons. I wanted this to be a generic article (US and Canada) so I didn’t refer to any websites and the coupon I used was from the website I founded.

    As for the gas argument, between my walks I can see a variety of stores and I rarely use my car (we live downtown).

    Great tips on recommending the other websites (save.ca), but the point of the article wasn’t to talk about where to get the coupons but how to be smart at using coupons.

  • Kathryn February 3, 2010, 3:52 pm

    For those of you who love grocery shopping, you could go into business doing it. It one of my least favourite things to do and I’d pay someone to do it for me. There are a lot of busy families or people who just don’t enjoy it that would like a service like that. I can hardly wait until online grocery shopping comes to my area.

    Re: the coupons. I once got a $4 off coupon for Tylonol and the generic was still cheaper. There is very little I can buy and use coupons that get me something cheaper than the generic. I do use coupons for eating out. There are a lot of great BOGO (buy one get one) coupons out there for restaurants.

  • Sue February 3, 2010, 3:56 pm

    This is my passion! I write a blog weekly in BC to help people save money.
    http://www.savingyourhardearnedmoney.blogspot.com

  • Steve Zussino February 3, 2010, 3:59 pm

    That is a great idea Kathryn (being paid to shop!).

    We never find coupons for generic but for most of our shopping where the brand is not important we try to purchase generic.

    My wife and I purchased the Entertainment Book for Vancouver Island and a lot of the coupons we don’t use but what we do is trade for ones we use more often (golf ones, kayaking) and we maximize the value of the book and give other people the opportunity to save money – I don’t eat fast food so I gave all of those away.

  • Ms Save Money February 3, 2010, 4:09 pm

    wow – that’s awesome – this does require a lot of time spent – cutting out coupons, looking for coupons and whatnot though.

  • RetirementInvestingToday February 3, 2010, 4:28 pm

    The method I used to lower my shopping bill is that I went to the supermarket and bought the cheapest of every item. I then ate the foods and decided which were ok and which were not. The next time I shopped those foods that were not ok I then bought the next brand up in price. After a few shops I had a full hierachy resulting the lowest shop possible.

    I also watch coupons as you suggest plus here in the UK supermarkets love something called a BOGOF (buy one get on free) offer.

  • Steve Zussino February 3, 2010, 4:50 pm

    Does anyone use multiple coupons at London Drugs?

    I would love to talk to someone that does.

  • marc February 3, 2010, 5:40 pm

    hey boys and gals,
    keep in mind that money that is saved is AFTER TAX MONEY, so really it’s worth more.

  • Steve Zussino February 3, 2010, 5:55 pm

    Great point Marc.

    The after-tax money saving is where saving money comes important.

    This is my wife’s saying, “It is not how much you make, it is what you do with it”.

    It is really true.

  • tom February 3, 2010, 7:37 pm

    Most of the grocery stores here in the Hammer will not take coupons printed from the internet. I guess some bogus ones must have gone around, now they only take the “value pack” ones and ones you cut from packages. Anyone else have this problem? I subscribed to some site that sent you links to various coupons but no go at the local stores.

  • youngandthrifty February 4, 2010, 2:09 am

    One tip to remember to do is to keep the coupons in your wallet.
    There have been so many times where I saw something that was already on sale and remembered seeing a coupon for it, and was like “doh!! It’s at home!”. Then I get too lazy to go back home to get the coupon and just tell myself I’ll try and remember to bring it out next time…
    =)

  • finance February 4, 2010, 3:56 am

    it’s also a good practice to have a buy 1 take 1 promo. and other free stuff that might be needed.

  • Stephen February 4, 2010, 11:47 am

    I think you guys are giving Steve here too hard of a time. There are lots of websites out there that have people who are crazily into coupon deals:

    smartcanucks.ca (forums especially)
    frugalshopper.ca
    pricenetwork.ca

    There is a coupon and freebies section on redflagdeals that is quite active.

    I personally haven’t spent a lot of time investing in coupons other than ones I know I can get reliably and easily that are worth a lot of money. I just don’t have the time. However, I introduced my aunt to some of these sites and very shortly after she got into it she has seen great returns. She was able to give 4 people in my family MASSIVE gift baskets with about 30 items each in them all of which she obtained for free. It had everything including food, candy, candles, air fresheners, cleaners, hygiene products, etc. Most of this was done by using either Free Product Coupons or combining relatively high valued coupons with good sale prices to get the item for free or almost free. This doesn’t include all the items she has gotten for herself … plus she said she had an entire big box of stuff still left in her basement that she hasn’t given out.

    True, this isn’t for everyone and true you aren’t going to find many coupons for the store brand. However, I think people are exaggerating the savings they get on the store brand. Most of the time the sale price of brand name items are the same or even significantly less than store brand prices. Add a coupon to that, and you are definitely saving money over the store brand.

    If you have the time and can figure out a good efficient system for doing this … there is a lot of money savings in it.

    One final comment. Who in their right mind goes to 8 grocery stores when out shopping?? Come on, be serious. I’m sure some people do it … but it definitely isn’t required to do this. Really saving money using coupons and sales may involve going to 2 or 3 stores with the best sales or price matching other stores to get all the best prices at one store. More importantly it involves stocking up so you never pay full price for anything. Like Steve mentioned, this actually cuts down on trips to the store and running out to get things which actually saves you time and gas. It takes a little while before you start saving time and gas but eventually you get there.

  • abcstocks February 4, 2010, 2:24 pm

    I would like to save money using coupons, but it takes lots of time and efforts to save few dollars, IMO. I would rather spend same energy and time earning more money using my skills so I can afford more grocery.

  • Ms Save Money February 4, 2010, 3:58 pm

    Everyone has there own ways of saving money,

    I agree with abcstocks – I would rather try to earn more money by improving my skills rather than by cutting coupons.

    So if you’re not into the coupon cutting thing – when you go to the store, just buy the generic store brand instead of the well known brands – at least you don’t have to think too much and you know you’re still saving some kind of money because it’s generally always cheaper.

  • Stephen February 4, 2010, 4:46 pm

    I also agree that anyone who has the ability to make significantly more money through conventional means should focus their energies there but if your income or job stagnates and you don’t want to take on a second job, then this is a viable alternative.

    To those who think these kind of savings aren’t reproducible here’s two forums dedicated to people talking about the awesome deals they obtained. Many individuals post again and again so you know they have a good system down:

    http://www.frugalshopper.ca/phpbb2/viewforum.php?f=45&sid=1eca686831ca219dcce200704e40ae72

    http://forum.smartcanucks.ca/canadian-deals-bragging-discussion

  • Steve Zussino February 4, 2010, 6:38 pm

    Thanks for the backup Stephen.

    I feel that you should spend time on what you like to do.

    I like to shop and save money so I try to find coupons and I don’t want to work extra to pay more taxes.

    I like to save my after-tax income.

    I think before anyone says that they would never use coupons, figure out how much your marginal time is worth (my tax talk). I mean, after taxes, and transportation costs, dressing fancy for work, how much do you make per hour?

    I prefer to spend my spare time saving me future time and not having to work hard but everyone is different!

  • Nathalie February 5, 2010, 3:19 pm

    Most of the coupons I ever see on websites/flyers suck. They are for brand name items and it usually costs more then the store brand item even with coupons.

    Here is how I save money on my groceries:

    1. Shop at the cheapest grocery store, for me that is No Frills (used to be Food Basic in a different town I lived in).
    2. Purchase all meat on its last day of sale when it’s at least 1/2 off or more, (I stockpile on whole chickens, ground beef/pork, chicken breasts/thighs), then freeze it at home until I need it. I also prepare things (e.g. when I buy a family size chicken thigh package break it up into smaller dinner size portion before freezing, sometimes I also cut/marinate it to save time later).
    3. Purchase all vegetables/fruits only when in season, and purchase only the imperfect stuff that’s discounted by about 3/4. Our grocery store has a place where they sell not-perfect fruits/vegetables, for example I can buy 3 lb of red peppers for $1.99. Chop those up and freeze, use when needed. Same with green onions etc. They almost always have broccoli, beans, mushrooms, zuccini, peppers, cabbages, apples, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, pears, and I just cook with what they have. Early morning is when they have the most variety, I often think “the early bird gets the worm”.
    4. Purchase all bread on the last day of sale, our grocery store sells it at 1/3 original price. They always have bagels, whole grain bread, cheese sticks (which my kids love), sometimes garlic bread which I freeze and stockpile if they have it.
    5. Always stock up on pantry items when they come on sale (items that don’t go bad like toilet paper, canned goods, cereals) and ONLY BUY ITEMS YOU USE.

    Basically I buy almost everything ahead of time and I plan my cooking around what fruits/vegetable is cheapest, allrecipes.com is great for finding recipes according to ingredients.

    I don’t care if people think I am cheap, my husband has been out of work for almost a year and this has cut our groceries into about 1/2. The meat/bread/produce has always been fresh as they can’t sell something after it has gone bad, it’s just the last day of sale.

  • zud February 5, 2010, 3:34 pm

    i find that hunting around for flyers, trolling forums, coupon clipping and going from shop to shop really defeats the purpose of saving money because its so time consuming. i don’t think i’d go to multiple stores just to buy the loss leader. i want to do my shopping at one store, that has good parking, short line-ups, is close to my home, is clean and has friendly staff.

    i recently spoke to the manager at Price Smart which is a spin off of Save-on, he said they will gladly match competitors prices.

  • FindCashBackCards February 5, 2010, 6:01 pm

    Coupons are killer. Buy generic stuff, use coupons, and capitalize with a rewards card. You can make a killing in savings, it’s so easy!

  • cannon_fodder February 6, 2010, 1:57 am

    I find that there are a series of paper coupons that are accepted everywhere. They have numerical values in 5, 10, 20, 50, and even 100 dollar amounts. They are quite colourful, never expire and have a picture of a famous person and a picture of a truly Canadian scene.

    You can get them at any ATM or bank or credit union branch. The company that issues them is the Bank of Canada.

  • Ken February 6, 2010, 11:17 am

    WE PRACTICE JUST WHAT YOU DO AND WE GET ‘BIG’ SAVINGS. A GREAT POST ON HOW TO GET MORE FOR LESS.

  • Rich @ Change Your Life February 6, 2010, 9:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing your tips! We’ve found it helpful to keep a price book from the various stores in our area. That way, we know a good deal when we see one. We have 5 kids, so we definitely stock up, and buy a lot at wholesalers like Costco.

  • cash back credit cards February 6, 2010, 11:57 pm

    Now that’s a great article and very helpful and useful tips. Thanks for sharing..another way that we have found saving is where you shop can really really effect your grocery billing and you really hit that point very well.

    Also, another key we have found is spending cash only and not going shopping when your hungry or moody.

    Great information and thanks so much for sharing all the helpful tips to start helping me save some serious money next time I go grocery shopping.

  • Nick February 7, 2010, 12:21 am

    It’s a weird coincidence that everything on the grocery list happens to be spread out across the supermarket, so the consumer is compelled to walk past things that he or she would not normally look at, and some of those things will make their way to the shopping cart.

  • used tires February 7, 2010, 10:50 am

    That’s a very interesting observation, Nick. I’ve succumbed to this tactic quite often I must say.

    Till then,

    Jean

  • Multiple Egg Baskets July 2, 2010, 4:43 pm

    I follow a similar strategy and collect Shoppers Drug Mart optimum points. Whenever it is 20 times the points I go and get the on sale grocery items at Shoppers. I get my food staples and earn optimum points which I later redeem during road trips and stocking stuffers at Christmas.

  • Jesper Jensen July 6, 2010, 4:55 am

    It´s always cool to save money :)

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